Caring for Communities

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-By Tracey Hilderley

Southern Cross Care (SA & NT) Inc is a truly modern organisation with a uniquely rich history. A not-for-profit aged care services provider, Southern Cross Care was launched in Adelaide in 1968, and today provides a continuum of care to its residents and the broader community through service provision and the promotion and advocacy of adequate and appropriate social policy and community support.

The organisation has evolved alongside the needs of older Australians, having its roots in the Catholic tradition. Today, as CEO Andrew Larpent, OBE explains, Southern Cross Care is “open and welcoming of all faiths; we wouldn’t describe ourselves as a secular organisation but nor would we describe ourselves these days as an entirely Catholic organisation. We are an all-faith organisation with a Catholic tradition.”

Mr Larpent joined as CEO six months ago, taking over from outgoing CEO Michael Bendyk, who Mr Larpent describes as having taken the organisation on a “great leap forward” throughout his fourteen-year tenure. This period saw the organisation focussed on developing its services and its properties, and building its strong reputation as a modern, not-for-profit business in the aged care sector. Mr Larpent’s experience working with a similar organisation based in the United Kingdom enabled him to initiate a review of Southern Cross Care’s services, examining, he says, “how we shape this business to respond to the ever changing and growing needs of the increasing population of older Australians.”

This evolution is taking place whilst, as Mr Larpent says, “operating in an environment where the health and care reform agenda of the Federal Government is a high priority.” It will be key, stresses Mr Larpent, for the organisation to understand these changes and shape its services to suit the future dynamics of the industry.

Southern Cross Care strongly emphasises training and development of its staff, to ensure appropriate and effective delivery of its services. The organisation has a diverse workforce of approximately 1700 individuals, and it is a workforce which is growing rapidly. Motivated staffers are drawn to Southern Cross Care from all backgrounds and areas of industry and from all over the globe, and once there are provided with comprehensive and ongoing training as well as continuous opportunities for professional and personal development.

It is a supportive workplace culture, which fosters learning and true career growth – and the organisation has been learning and growing along with its staff members. Embracing new technology is key in the aged care industry, explains Mr Larpent, as margins are understandably slim and organisations such as Southern Cross Care must do a lot with limited funds. “In order to work in that type of environment,” Mr Larpent says, “you have to have very good systems. So the use of fairly advanced communications technology, of business systems technology, is an absolutely key agenda for us; we are looking continually for ways to enhance the quality of the service we provide to our front-line sites and staff through better software, better systems, better networks.

“There is a huge technology agenda for business systems but of course there’s also a huge technology agenda for the future of care services in that more and more people these days are being supported to live at home with assistive technologies.” The company, then, is seeking to improve its systems in areas such as electronic health recording and remote monitoring of people in the community living with dementia and other health and care needs – which in the past would have necessitated living in an institutional setting. “Now, through technology we can enable people to stay independent, to stay at home, to keep the lines of communication open with their families and to stay fit and well for far, far longer.”

This use of leading edge technology not only leads to better quality of life for residents and clients, but also enables staff members to perform their jobs more safely and efficiently. With staff working remotely within communities, they may well be hundreds of kilometres from their base at any given time and solid communications infrastructure becomes a necessity. “Increasingly,” Mr Larpent explains, “we are looking to equip our staff with mobile communications technology, not only so that they have patient records and information at their fingertips, but also we’re talking about staff working in remote locations and at all times of the day and night, whose safety is a core concern for us. Their ability to communicate with their employer is key.”

It is important to stress that Southern Cross Care “operate[s] under a commercial regime. We have to compete for contracts, and we have to make sure that those contracts with the public sector are viable and that we don’t undersell ourselves and put our business at risk.” Yet the organisation must accomplish this under the pressures of tight public sector margins with ever fewer dollars available to be spent in this area – which, Mr Larpent emphasises, “is such a growing area of need.”

Mr Larpent is proud that Southern Cross Care is working to meet that need, and he is clear that he considers his organisation to be one in a strong community of quality aged care service providers throughout Australia, that “work really well together… we meet each other regularly, we share information, and we discuss matters of mutual interest.”

One of Southern Cross Care’s main points of difference is its provision of pastoral care. The organisation funds a pastoral team who can advise and support the front-line management teams and, of course, interface with residents and assist them in whatever ways they can in meeting for their spiritual needs.

Another key point of difference is Southern Cross Care’s presence in the Northern Territory. The move into NT has been a significant undertaking of the organisation, one which had been in discussion for several years. Southern Cross Care entered into a partnering agreement with the Northern Territory government to secure the land to develop, and to provide a range of diverse services. “The first service to be built – opened a year ago this month – was the 60-bed residential aged care home which is now up and running and is full.” There is extremely high demand for such services in NT, and Southern Cross Care has completed the first stage of a retirement village on the Fannie Bay site where top quality retirement units are now fully occupied and the next stage of development is underway.

“We are very much an organisation,” concludes Mr Larpent, “that is proud of its roots but has its eyes firmly set on the future. We see a huge growth in the need for our services.” With members of the boomer generation beginning to look toward their retirement, there is a significant need for organisations such as Southern Cross Care who care deeply about what that retirement will look like and are willing to adapt to help shape it.

It’s about providing services that people want and working to make those services accessible – a key question that must be addressed by Southern Cross Care and by anybody looking to provide services in the ever-changing, and truly fundamental field of aged care.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 16, 2018, 3:50 PM AEDT